Go, Faux Baby, Go!
This has got to be the strangest topic to do a series on, yet at the same time it’s absolutely perfect for the web-series format. The show isn’t for me, a single guy in my thirties so far removed from having a child. I can’t totally relate, but I can appreciate it for its many merits. Creators Laura Brennan, Rachel Leventhal and Jennifer Maisel are smart, solid writers with a taste for the dark, which I love.
The show is about a self-obsessed thirty-something couple considering child rearing, but giving the faux baby a shot first before jumping headlong into pregnancy. Missy Yager plays Madeline, the relatively incompetent “mom” of the faux baby and is the star of the show, while Lucas Bryant plays the chronically annoyed husband, Harry. Both actors are spot-on with their comedic delivery and their somewhat ornery, edgy characterizations.
After watching the first episode where Madeline gets the baby from Dr. Greenfield, well-played by Leslie Hope, and eventually breaks its arm off, I was a little concerned this was a one-note joke that would be played out pretty quickly. But then the second episode takes the couple to a coffee shop where they are forced to discuss their new “baby” with every passerby that sees the stroller, and I realized, oh, this is brilliant. Not just because you can imagine the multitude of scenarios that people with infants go through, but also because these two characters are the least likely to have children and that’s exactly the point of the show. They might actually arc! Or at least continue to be bad “parents” to a faux baby, which is kind of hilarious in and of itself.
I gotta say, I’m not totally in love with some of Charlie Stratton’s directing choices, though, specifically his use of jump cuts in both episodes so far. In episode one, he jumps in on the baby like the classic Hitchcock device from The Birds, and I can’t tell if it’s dated, if it’s the sound design, or what, but it just isn’t working as intended. In episode two, it’s where Harry goes from being a jerkoff, telling the truth about the faux baby, to his series of jump cuts where he’s making up birth stats. The camera angles get weird and the lighting is off. Otherwise the direction is fine and in some cases, great—it’s just these little things getting under my skin and since the shows are only around five minutes in length, every little nuance is magnified.
So, I’ve recently said this about another show, but I’ll say it again, this one isn’t really for me, but I get it and I get why and how it’s good. It’s a smartly written, well-acted, humorous show that’s both dark and somehow warm (because at least these parents-to-(may)be are trying). Kudos and good luck.
Side Effects: One off, or off the charts?
Well, this is a bizarre little ditty by writer-director Chuck Rose. It feels like a short film without an ending. Which could be a good thing, because if each show feels that way, then we’ll be slyly pulled along and drawn into the lives and relationship of these people. If not, then this show could crash and burn real soon.
Side Effects is the story of suicidal divorcee, Paul, played beautifully by Arye Gross, as he tries to get a refill of his Seconal because the first batch didn’t quite do the job of killing him. His pharmacist, Jo, in a subtle performance by Amanda Tepe, is aware of what Paul is trying to do and tries to suggest at first that it’s not worth doing because his wife wasn’t that great to begin with, then when that doesn’t work, she slides into a suggestion on the better way to do it. Both are nice little story turns as we realize two things: a) your local pharmacist knows a hell of a lot more about you than you realize, and b) she might just be in love with you.
It doesn’t really dawn on Paul that Jo is an admirer until the very end of the episode, so when it does, it’s a sweet moment. The entire story is nicely nuanced in this way like a good short film and I’d like to think that Rose has it in him to continue this trend, but it takes some real talent, or at least a real, clear voice to maintain the pace he’s established. I guess it remains to be seen. In the meantime, take a look at this one. It’s not flashy, but it’s better than competent and could become something really special if Rose really has the chops he’s displaying in this small, quietly intriguing piece.